By Nathan Salsbury
On December 4, a group of five faculty members from various schools in the region will visit Spring Arbor University (SAU) to evaluate the school and decide whether or not it will maintain its regional accreditation.
On Monday, October 16, a student leadership meeting was held to inform students about SAU’s upcoming evaluation. Professor of Sociology John Hawthorne, alongside a team of other faculty members, has been working on the required paperwork for the visit. The document, at the time of the meeting, consisted of 28,456 words of the maximum 30,000 words and featured information on how the institution is doing academically and spiritually. Hawthorne said the project, which has taken up much of his time since March, is mostly ready to be reviewed by the visiting board, although it is still going through changes.
“I was really excited Saturday when I put what I thought were the last edit passes in to say, ‘Oh good, now we’ve got this thing put to bed,'” Hawthorne said. “I got about seven emails between 5:30 and 10:30 on Sunday morning, so then I went back in and I’ve been working on that since.”
The document will then be assessed by the five faculty members that are chosen to evaluate SAU. These members will come from schools in the North-Central region of the country, which is comprised of schools from 19 states. This region is also known as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
To remain accredited, five criteria must be met as listed on the HLC’s official website. The surveyors need to make sure:
1) The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations.
2) The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.
3) The institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered.
4) The institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments, and support services, and it evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement.
5) The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities. The institution plans for the future.
Not only will the HLC be looking for those five criteria to be met during their visit, they will also be sitting down with various students to evaluate what campus life is like. Hawthorne said students should be honest about their thoughts on the school, although they should not take this as an opportunity to voice complaints about such things as the limited parking availability.
“We are not a perfect institution,” Hawthorne said. “The institutions that our visitors will come from are not perfect institutions. So, if you should say, ‘There’s an area that we think we’re working on as an institution and I wish we did more of that,’ I want you to be honest in that conversation.”
During the meeting, students can expect to hear questions such as, “What’s it like to go to school here?” and, “How your major classes are going?” Hawthorne, who is occasionally asked to be a part of the HLC when evaluating other schools, said he would not directly ask about advising, but there might be questions to ensure students know what classes they need to take and that there is a strong support system of faculty members for the student to come to with any problems.
Hawthorne said he assured the president that although SAU is being evaluated, there is almost nothing that anybody could say in the visit that would cause the school undue harm or prompt the accreditation to be taken away. The visit is a procedure that every accredited institution must go through every few years. In particular, the HLC typically evaluates schools once every seven to ten years, and this year marks ten years since SAU was last evaluated. Once accreditation takes place, it gives the school the opportunity to receive Title IV funding from the Department of Education, which means the school will receive federal financial aid funds.
The HLC will spend most of Monday, December 4 on campus, as well as some of Tuesday, December 5. The five members will then draft their assessment of the school to decide whether or not SAU will remain an accredited institution.